Cavan in the Ulster Plantation (History of Cavan)

avan is part of the Republic of Ireland (Southern Ireland), lying on the border of Northern Ireland. It is an inland Irish county, in the province of Ulster. It is bounded to the north by the county of Fermanagh; on the west, by Leitrim, on the south, by Longford, Westmeath, and Meath; and on the east and north-east, by Monaghan.

In modern history, County Cavan was one of six Irish counties to make up the Ulster Plantation of 1610. The Plantation was a scheme by King James I of England to secure the gains the English had made in their long and costly war with the Irish - to weaken the Irish threat by taking the land from the Irish natives and granting it to loyal English and Scottish Protestant settlers.

Pre-Ulster Plantation scene in Cavan - banquet of local chieftain

County Cavan was the first of the six Ulster counties to implement this land reform. The local Irish protested to King James using English common law arguments to defend their rights to the property. The English government responded coldly that since the local Irish chieftains had fled Ireland and their heirs had been killed during the recent war, the land naturally went to the King of England at his discretion. A lengthy defense of the action included a somewhat arrogant justification that not only was the displacing of native Irish from their lands legal, it was the duty of His Majesty to transform his Irish subjects from their "barbarism" to civility by the infusion of civilised Englishman into the Irish country, else the country would lie wasted like a wilderness.

Truly, His Majesty may not only take this course lawfully, but is bound in conscience so to do. For, being the undoubted rightful King of this realm...His Majesty is bound in conscience to use all lawful and just courses to reduce his people from barbarism to civility; ... Now civility cannot possibly be planted among them but by this mixed plantation of civil men, which likewise could not be without removal and transplantation of some of the natives and settling of their possessions in a course of Common Law; for if themselves were suffered to possess the whole country, as their septs have done for many hundred of years past, they would never, to the end of the world, build houses, make townships or villages, or manure or improve the land as it ought to be; therefore it stands neither with Christian policy nor conscience to suffer so good and fruitful a country to lie waste like a wilderness, when His Majesty may lawfully dispose it to such persons as will make a civil plantation thereupon.

The English moved hundreds of Scottish and English settler families onto the lands hoping to quickly and quietly end the Irish resolve. By 1622, more than 13,000 Protestants lived in Ulster Province. By 1641 their population was over 100,000. Within 30 years of the arrival the first settlers, only slightly more than ten percent of Ulster land still belonged to the native Catholic Irish.

This arrangement was never popular with the displaced Irish. In 1641 the protestant settlement in Cavan was wiped out by a nation-wide rebellion of the native Irish. Protestant settlers were driven from their homes and forced to flee.

"On the 15th day of June 1641, we marched away 1200 men, women and children from Cavan [town] towards Drogheda accompanied by 2000 rebels to protect us. The first day being Wed, 15th we marched to Cavan, the 16th at Laragh, the 17th at Corroneary (in Knockbride), the 18th at Shercock".

While these 1200 refugees were encamped at the town of Corroneary the local Irish brought them "provisions in great plenty". The Irish were not so friendly in other parts of County Cavan. Protestant settlers in the towns of Belturbet and Virginia were savagely murdered.

By 1650 however, Oliver Cromwell had brutally put down the Irish rebellion and restored Protestant lands established in the Ulster plantation. What little land that remained in Catholic hands he confiscated and granted to other protestant families through the Cromwellian land grants. As a result, land in Cavan was almost exclusively held by Protestants and parts of the county had a large Protestant population.

In 1689 yet another opportunity for an Irish uprising presented itself with the accession of the Catholic King James II to the English throne. James was overthrown by his Protestant daughter and her husband William of Orange and travelled to Ireland where he raised an enthusiastic Catholic army. This army was quickly defeated by William's army in fierce battles that even today stir up strong resentment among the descendants of both sides.




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